Victory is as sweet as honey, a taste which can last a lifetime” – Charmaine J Forde
September is recognized as US National Honey Month by the National Honey Board since 1989. Since we have our very own bee keeper, Brenda Nye, how could we not recognize honey month. So, here is everything you always wanted to know about honey, but didn’t ask.
Honey is a sweet, thick liquid that is made by honeybees to serve as their carbohydrate source for energy. It is the only food made by insects that humans consume. Since ancient times, honey has been used as both a food and a medicine in many cultures worldwide. Due to its acidity and molecular makeup, bacteria and germs cannot live in honey, and it is ideal for use as a topical dressing for wounds and burns because it allows a moist, acidic healing environment that is hostile to pathogens yet is kind to epithelial tissue regeneration. It is known to calm coughs as effectively as over the counter medicines and to soothe sore throats. Some believe it is helpful for seasonal allergies and research is being done on its potential anti-tumor properties. Honey that is kept air-tight at an ideal 18.5% moisture content is fairly stable, however, if it is watered down, it may ferment, and if allowed to ferment under proper conditions, a wonderful wine-like beverage known as Mead can be made.
How is honey made by the honeybees? How do we access it?
Honey bees visit millions of blossoms in their lifetimes, making pollination of plants possible and collecting thin liquid nectar to bring back to the hive to cure into honey.
When the forager honey bee returns to the hive, she unloads the liquid food to recipient house bees through mouth-to-mouth contact known as trophallaxis. In the forager’s honey stomach and in the process of trophallaxis, the liquid is acted upon by enzymes to break down and rearrange the sugars, and create the unique properties of honey. By beating their wings over the honeycomb containing the nectar, house bees fan and evaporate to cure the nectar to less than 20% moisture content. At this point, they cap the honey with a moisture barrier layer of wax and save it for their future energy needs. On average, a hive will produce about 65 pounds of surplus honey each year. Beekeepers harvest it by collecting the honeycomb frames and scraping off the wax cap that bees make to seal off honey in each cell. Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in a centrifuge extractor that spins the frames, forcing honey out of the comb. The honey is then collected, strained and sometimes filtered (unless raw), then bottled and stored at room temperature in an air-tight container. If properly stored, honey will not spoil and has no expiration date. It may crystallize but crystallization does not mean the honey has gone bad. In 2012, edible honey was discovered by archeologists in the country of Georgia estimated to be about 5,500 years old!
What is the difference between sugar and honey?”
Both honey and sugar are carbohydrate, calorie-dense sweeteners and both will affect your blood sugar level. Honey is sweeter than granulated sugar, so you might use a smaller amount of honey for sugar in some recipes. Common table sugar is 99.5% sucrose, a combination of the chemically bonded monosaccharides glucose and fructose with a high glycemic index of 68. In Honey, fructose and glucose are non-bonded and are primarily independent of each other (due to enzymatic activity of trophalaxis) leading to better digestibility, and with its lower glycemic index at 55, is less likely to spike blood glucose levels compared with sucrose.
Nutritionally, 1 tablespoon of honey (21 grams) contains 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar. Honey is made up of at least 165 identifiable components and at least twenty-five different kinds of sugar. It contains 18 different amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants, including catalase, ascorbic acid, flavonoids and alkaloids. Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, some types of cancer and lowering blood pressure. They may also promote eye health. Honey is such a complex substance that, when eaten in moderate amounts, it contributes to the metabolic balance of our bodies rather than detracting from it.
My Honey is crystallized, did it go bad? What is raw honey?
The colors and flavors of honey vary greatly depending on the blossom sources the bees tap and range from almost colorless with a mild taste to robustly flavored dark amber brown. Over time, honey can change from its thick liquid state to a crystalline solid, often erroneously thought to be spoiled. Almost all honey varieties eventually crystallize. Different types of honey crystallize at different rates (from 1-2 months to more than 2 years) and many times storage temperature is a factor is the acceleration of the crystallizing. Crystallization by no means changes the quality of honey. It only affects some external features, like change of color and texture. Gluсоѕе іѕ thе undеrlуіng саuѕе оf сrуѕtаllіzаtіоn bесаuѕе оf іtѕ lоwеr ѕоlubіlіtу соmраrеd wіth fruсtоѕе, whісh rеmаіnѕ іn а lіquіd ѕtаtе duе tо іtѕ bеttеr ѕоlubіlіtу. Whеn gluсоѕе сrуѕtаllіzеѕ, іt ѕераrаtеѕ frоm wаtеr аnd turnѕ іntо ѕmаll сrуѕtаlѕ. The crystals grow until clear liquid honey turns to opaque solid honey. Honey can revert back to its thick liquid, “see-through” state by immersing the honey container in warm water to melt the glucose back into solution. (To protect the enzymatic activity, use warm, not hot water and never microwave). Sometimes crystallization is desired…If the crystals are small enough and are seeded into honey under optimal temperature conditions, a wonderful creamed honey is the result which is fantastically spreadable on toast with a superb mouthfeel! Raw honey is a loose definition, but usually refers to honey that has not been heat treated or filtered (though straining of debris is acceptable) and contains all the natural sugars, enzymes, pollen and propolis as nature intended, direct from the bees. If raw honey doesn’t crystallize over time, then it may be suspect as adulterated honey. Any honey with added glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, invert sugar, flour, corn syrup, starch, or any other similar product, other than floral nectar is considered fake or adulterated honey. Many adulterated honeys come from foreign countries. Read your labels; know your local beekeeper.
Not for babies!
Honey does come with a warning; it is not recommended for infants less than one year of age. “Infant botulism” is caused by spores of the bacterium clostridium botulinum that is present in natural foods and can be consumed without harm by children and adults. However, children under the age of 12 months do not have mature enough gastrointestinal tracts to combat the toxins that could come from the bacterium spores and should not be fed honey.